A little light reading

Apparently — if Apple is to be believed — "Reading is a joy on iPad".

Now, I'm a big proponent of reading. I read every day, but then that's hardly shocking for a working journalist ... although I have had some suspicions about certain current affairs "journalists" and sports "journalists" for some time. 

I read for work, I read for pleasure, I read to my kids — did you know that my cat likes to hide in boxes? — and I have been known, when bored, to sit in the doctor's waiting room reading the posters regarding medical procedures. Just because I'm bored. As a result, you could say that I'm something of a reader. Also that I know more about pap smears than is technically necessary, but I'm getting off track here.

Anyway, back to reading being a joy on the iPad. That's Apple's claim, and what I'd like to know, as an avid reader, is when exactly that's going to start? The tense would seem to suggest that reading euphoria is happening right now, but that clearly isn't the case.

I'm not fussed, by the way, by the fact that the iPad uses an LCD screen. Shift the brightness down a touch, as full whack is rather garish, and I find it no harder to read than any e-ink product. I don't read much of anything in ten-hour stretches if I can help it, so the battery life isn't the problem, either.

It's the selection of books.

Let's start with Apple's own store, shall we? iBooks in Australia, as it stands at the time of writing, is one big fat joke.

Nothing more, nothing less. The joke, by the way, is on us.

There's no point whatsoever in having a big shiny book-selling interface, and exactly zero books to sell on it. I'm fully aware that books are available via iBooks. It's just that they're all public domain, Project Gutenberg titles. Every single one. Admittedly, Apple scores small points here for not charging for them the way that Amazon will try to do with an international Kindle. But still, I could grab the exact same texts and import them via iTunes any time I felt like it. That's not a bookstore, and as could typically be expected, there's no public timeline on when actual sale books will become available locally. Yes, it would be feasible to pick up a US iTunes store account and then pay some dodgy online iTunes voucher merchant for US iTunes credit to buy actual books, but then I'd be flying in the face of Apple's user agreement and potentially risking all the content I'm paying for, as well as feasibly supporting criminal enterprises selling iTunes vouchers off the back of stolen credit cards. I'd rather keep it legal, thanks.

There are alternatives on the iPad for the book-obsessed that do offer up actual books for actual money. Amazon's Kindle, for example. That application opens up with a nice enough backdrop of someone reading under a tree like they do in all the best movie establishing shots, but clicking on the "Shop In Kindle Store" icon ... opens up Safari. You've then got to sign in, sort out your purchases — which cost more because you're an Australian — and then relaunch the application in order to actually download your purchases. As Yoda might say, Simple This Is Not.

What's really strange here is that my current pick of the best e-reading software on the iPad, Stanza, is owned lock stock and barrel by Amazon, and includes purchasing and store-browsing options from within the application — but not for Kindle books. Just as I'd like to see Apple actually sell some books, it'd be nice if Amazon could work out just what its hive mind actually wants to do.

Borders also offer up an ebook application with inbuilt store, focused around its Kobo e-reading device. The Kobo device itself is fundamentally a cheaper Kindle without the inbuilt wireless, and for its $199 asking price, if all you wanted was an e-reader, it would suffice. Borders isn't that interested in hardware sales, however, and for that reason the Kobo offering extends to PC/Mac and iPhone/iPod and iPad with a universal application. Browsing is a little slow, but all the prices are listed clearly in Australian dollars and Kobo supports synchronising your library to any and all devices that you'd like. I'm on to a winner, here, surely?

Nope.

The problem here is that the Borders iPad and iPhone applications don't handle all the Kobo's files properly. This didn't happen with every book I purchased, but when it did, it made them near unreadable. As an example, I picked up a copy of Danny Wallace And The Centre Of The Universe, a book which rather surprisingly reveals the centre of the universe to be in Idaho. It's an enjoyable enough humorous read on the Kobo or indeed on my iMac.

On the iPhone or iPad, it's a mess.

Borders appThis screenshot displays the problem nicely. For whatever reason, the App interprets the same ePub files with a slight offset on every page. It's rather like someone has grabbed a physical copy and jammed it too tightly into a photocopier, leaving the margin of one page spilling onto another. Now that I think of it, it's kind of funny having this kind of spill in an application called Borders. Funny-sad, however, not really funny in the internet-accepted LOL sense.

So what's a book loving iPad owner to do? Aside from the obviously illicit avenues — which I won't point you to, as I make my living from copyright, same as other authors — all I can do is wait and fume.

What do you think? Are eBooks a vital part of the iPad experience anyway?

Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!